If you have ever had the pleasure of browsing a Facebook feed for any extended length of time, you have likely seen a new, sophisticated moral argument for a variety of issues. Why are women still receiving less pay than men for the same work? Come on, folks, it’s 2017! Why is there still racism? Come on, people, it’s 2017! Why can’t we let any two people who love each other get married? It’s 2017!
Unfortunately, our early leaders faltered. Their society fostered slavery, misogyny, racism, nationalism, and genocide. They were by their own standards and by our standards today, evil. Yet their brilliance shines through in the next 200 years of U.S. history. One by one, the oppressive shackles of injustice were loosed. As more and more people began to recognize the implications of equality – rights and values that were endowed and inalienable. Slaves were freed, workers were treated more fairly, women gained a voice in society, and programs were created to push back against the ill effects long-term racism had created. We are still fighting some of these fights – and others – today. But we’re not fighting them because it’s 2017. We’re fighting them because what was acknowledged in 1776 is still true. All humanity is created equal. We have inherent value. Our value does not change with time but is intrinsically placed within each one of us. It is endowed. We don’t progressively create our value as society evolves– for then some could lose their value with time, and some have never had it. We observe our value. Whether we acknowledge the value of someone or not, their value exists. It can be ignored by the evil and ignorant, but it cannot be stamped out.
Our founders provided us with a framework that lead to their own judgment and condemnation. In fact, the only reason we can look back through time and judge them is because they were right about the true value of humanity. All humanity’s equal value is objective and it has always been present. Were we to have just discovered the value of women and minorities in 2017, how could we possibly stand in judgment against our forebears? If our moral ethic is “because it’s 2017,” certainly our ancestors could be excused for slavery and misogyny, because when they performed these injustices it wasn't 2017.
The year and your value have no correspondence. The year only indicates the values to which we are blind – whose value we deny. In 1817 our society was largely blind to Native Americans, slaves, and women. It was a society which revolved around expansion of territory, taking advantage of laborers, and misogynistic family structures. If you ask me, it was likely a willful blindness. To treat everyone as equals would have meant to lose power in the world and in society. But in 2017 the devaluation of humanity hasn’t really changed. We still devalue others, we have just shifted the groups against whom we discriminate. Today we value convenience, plentiful freedoms (which usually means number of choices), and pleasure. Whereas our ancestors found opportunity in the acquisition of land and a highly structured society, we view opportunity as coming from mobility and experiences. And it is in these desires that we find our tendency towards the selfish fostering of injustice.
The main place we find injustice in our culture today is against the unborn. It is inarguable that at the time any clinical abortions are performed, a fetus growing inside a mother is a distinct, living human being. There is an individual growing in the womb. But these tiny individuals are often impediments to the freedom of mobility and the promise of unhampered experiences. To allow a child to live is to take on decades of cost and responsibility. A child brought into the world may make life difficult or even nearly impossible for some, particularly the impoverished. Looking in the face of your child every day may remind you of mistakes you made or evils that conspired against you to bring such a life about. Looking in the face of your child might remind you that objective morality requires you to love someone beyond yourself. Any of these reminders and burdens can be impediments to freedom as our culture currently defines it. And just as we dehumanized some in the past for their skin color or education, we dehumanize others today based on their size, level of development, the environment in which they grow, and their degree of dependence on another.
I am fearful that what we see with abortion is leading us into another dehumanizing atrocity – euthanasia. At the moment, some countries and states are legalizing assisted suicide or assisted euthanasia. While I understand this emotionally, what society is beginning to say is that your negative experiences warrant the taking of your own life. Your life is only as valuable as your experience of it. At the moment, this euthanasia must be voluntary on the part of the “patient.” But with our modern ethic, what is to prevent our negative experience of footing the bill for a large, aging generation from one day justifying our taking of their lives against their will? Just as it is being argued in some journals that we can take an infant’s life because of its helplessness and cost to us, so it may be that the aged helpless will one day be considered for extermination without their approval. If humans have redefined humanity through the ages, what makes us think we’re not redefining it right now? And what makes us think we won’t redefine it in 2018? It is indeed 2017 – but it won't be for long.
There is nothing about the passage of time which confers upon humanity more rights or more value. Neither does the passage of time lead us to moral enlightenment in a world where morality is a creation rather than an observation. Without an endower – a creator – there is no objective morality to recognize and no intrinsic value in humanity to uphold. With the modern moral sentiments that are rising, we may lose the guilt that accompanies moral truths, but we will also lose the ability to judge the evils of the past and to have our actions judged and changed in the future. We will always have biases and attempt to redefine the humanity of certain groups, but in the United States, we have always had a foundation that shined a spotlight on such injustices until they were changed. I fear that the modern moral ethic which throws off these moral chains does so shortsightedly. For madmen with insatiable desires and elevated views of self must be chained for their own good, and for the good of all others. As one of Catalina’s professors used to say when looking at the innumerable world atrocities that were nearly always accompanied by an ideology of dehumanization, such evil “is not inhuman, it’s what humans do.” If history teaches us anything at all, it is that we are guilty of perpetuating such evil. We did it in 1817, and we're doing it now in 2017. Only now, we do so unfettered.